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Joe Tabet Reaps The Rewards From Pragma Group

Picture the perfect weekend: you leave work early on a Thursday as you have secured tickets for the Madinat Jumeirah theater performance of Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire, with a new cast list consisting of Marlon Brando and Laurence Olivier. On Friday you take in an intimate jazz session with Bob Dylan in a bar along Sheikh Zayed Road and you round off the night with a retro concert with a jam-packed line-up of names including Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston, Elvis Presley, James Brown and Kurt Cobain. It all sounds like fantasy but it can all be (almost) possible with the latest advances in hologram 3D technology. No longer the domain of Star Trek fiction, the sophisticated projection devices currently available mean deceased superstars can be brought back to life for one more performance beyond the grave, or existing artists could play exclusive concerts without being physically present and appear simultaneously on stage in London, Abu Dhabi or Las Vegas. Joe Tabet, chairman of Pragma Group, the Lebanese firm which manages the Cavalli Club and Cirque du Soir clubs in Dubai and which he claims is on target to become a $1bn company in a few years, believes this is the next big step for entertainment in Dubai and the wider Gulf.
“I think it is the future of clubbing and entertainment. The reason why it hasn’t come to Dubai yet is because it requires a lot of investment and long-term planning but I think there is a big room for that market.” Earlier this year, Michael Jackson appeared on stage as a 3D hologram at the Billboard Music Awards, almost five years after his sudden death. The Jackson hologram materialised on stage sitting on a golden throne and proceeded to interact with a host of real backing dancers and sing a new track from his latest posthumous album, Xscape. The Moonwalker singer joins a long list of singers who have been brought to life in such a manner: deceased rappers Ol’ Dirty B*****d and Eazy-E made hologrammatic appearances at concerts in 2013, while it was Tupac Shakur’s hologram at 2012’s Coachella festival in California, which set the ball rolling for the trend. The technology is not restricted to deceased singers either: performers Janelle Monáe and M.I.A were able to jointly take the stage, even though they were 3,000 miles apart. Similarly, the theatre world has incorporated the technology into recent productions, with a 3D hologram of Irish actor Liam Neeson playing the part of the narrator in a 2012 London production of The War of the Worlds musical. “Usually, the States is the leader in that industry. It started in Vegas a couple of years ago so give it three or four years before it becomes mature and it will be rolled out across the world and to Dubai,” Tabet predicts.The future certainly looks bright for Dubai entertainment, but Tabet’s Pragma Group is already reaping the rewards right now. The Pragma Lifestyle division, which includes a global deal with Italian designer Roberto Cavalli to operate branded cafes and clubs, as well as the Cirque Le Soir night club brand, Lina’s Café, Le Talleyrand, Health Care factory and Epicure Catering, has seen revenues grow from $21m in 2009 to $52m in 2013 and is projected to grow to $193m by 2016. Cavalli signed an agreement with the Pragma Group to launch 20 further Cavalli Clubs and Cavalli Cafes in emerging markets around the world in 2010 and while the downturn delayed the plans somewhat, Tabet says things are progressing nicely. “As far as Cavalli is concerned it is one of the international brands we have been concentrating upon. As far as the cafes are concerned, we currently have cafes in the Middle East and we have plans for 14 more over the next couple of years and as far as the clubs are concerned we always concentrated on this one [in Dubai] until we found the prime cities to expand the club. We are announcing Moscow soon and Morocco and then Sao Paolo. These are the four cities we will focus on for the clubbing.” Last year, rumours circulated that Pragma was planning to move into the hotel sector and Dubai was mooted as the first location for a Cavalli-branded hotel, adding to the likes of Armani, Versace, Bulgari and Gucci who have targeted the city’s rapidly expanding hospitality sector. Tabet confirms these rumours are true and that an announcement is due very soon. “We are working on this project with Cavalli and we are going to announce it very soon. I believe in the next couple of months we are going to be able to do a general more comprehensive announcement,” he teases. The other jewel in the Pragma clubbing crown is London night club brand Cirque du Soir, the circus-themed luxury outlet that caters to the alternative and outlandish. “We launched Shanghai last year and it did very well. Currently we are exploring other opportunities with that brand but there is no focus on developing on that brand, it is just on an opportunistic approach.”